Sunday, April 17, 2011

Panama

It was looking to be a normal week for me - work for the week, then hang out in El Salvador. The US government had better plans, though. On Monday, Sophie found out that she would be attending a conference and other meetings in Panama City as part of the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas. So, she left for the conference on Wednesday, and I joined her on Thursday evening.

The beauty of truly working remotely is that I didn't have to take any vacation - I just worked from the hotel room on Friday using their internet. However, what sucks about working remotely (at least for me) is that you sometimes lose track of time. I knew I needed to leave my house at 1pm to catch the 3pm flight out of San Salvador, but suddenly it was 1:52, and I was still at home. The San Salvador airport is about 45 minutes from my house, so I stepped on it and was able to get on the plane by 2:40. It helped that I only had carry-on and that I didn't have to pay the exit tax, but it's not a great feeling to be sitting in security as you hear the your flight's last boarding call announced.

While in Panama City, we had dinner at a nice restaurant in Casco Viejo. The food was great and cheap for what we got. One difference I noticed was that, unlike San Salvador, the restaurants were packed. San Salvador has some great restaurants, but you're often alone with ten employees when you eat out. We also had dinner on one of the 3 islands that are close to Panama City. The islands used to be only reachable by boat, but there is now a road out to them - I can only assume that they decided to do something with all the rubble from digging the canal. Panama City is a pretty interesting place - tall buildings everywhere, clean water, nice restaurants - it's almost like Miami. It wasn't at all what I was expecting.

We then had Saturday and Sunday to ourselves to check out the canal and relax in the rain forest. We started out on Saturday by seeing the Miraflores locks on the canal. As you can imagine, the locks are pretty big. It was cool seeing massive boats shimmy into the locks and move on up the canal. They have a pretty cool museum there as well, so you can learn about the history of the canal.

Although the locks were cool and certainly an engineering feat, the coolest part of the canal for me was seeing these huge boats as they made their way through the Chagres River and into Lago GatĂșn. The river looks like the Tennessee River I grew up with, yet there are large container ships cruising through - very cool. We stayed at a hotel in Gamboa that was way nicer than we're used to, but we didn't have much time and felt like relaxing. And relax we did. Our vacations normally consist of us frantically trying to do as much as we can in short amount of time, but I think Sophie and I both were exhausted, so we just sat by the pool, read our books, and took in the gorgeous scenery of the rain forest.

We were wondering what to do on Sunday, but then Facebook came to the rescue. I have a high school friend who I knew had worked at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute back in 2007, so I sent him a message on Facebook asking what we should be doing. I doubt we have communicated since high school, so I wasn't expecting much, but, lo and behold, it turns out that he was actually in Panama, and staying on an island that was very close to where we were. He's doing his PhD in plant biology at Berkley  We were able to meet up at our hotel, and he took us to one of the research areas that was nearby, where he showed us all the cool research that the Smithsonian is doing. Very cool.
Sophie learning about all the experiments. The trees in the background are in a mostly closed system in order to measure how much water a tree needs to grow, and whether that amount differs by species.
Alas, our little mini-vacation had to end at some point, so we caught a cab back to Panama City and got back into San Salvador at around 10pm.

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